Is breastfeeding “immodest?”

breastfeedingMy second grandson was born a few days ago and I have breastfeeding on my mind.

I nursed both of my daughters, and my younger daughter nursed her first, and now her second boy. If I were still of childbearing age, I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way, unless of course I wasn’t able to breastfeed for some reason.

A few weeks ago there was a long, impassioned discussion about breastfeeding and modesty on Facebook. It revolved around whether women should openly nurse their babies in public. It was the men and the hardcore Christian women who felt that it was “immodest,” while the other commenters were more lenient.

Having lived in other countries outside of the USA, my attitude toward breastfeeding in public is very lenient. I’m used to seeing women openly nursing their babies on buses, in parks, even in churches, without making any special effort to “cover up.”

Some of the people on the Facebook thread used expressions like “flaunting” and “whipping it out,” which I confess I found almost quaint. It got me thinking. What are breasts? What is their purpose? Obviously there were two camps on that FB thread: the ones who saw breasts as primarily a source of food for babies, and the ones who saw them primarily as sexual objects.

It seems peculiar to me that a woman should feel embarrassed to nurse her baby in public, when women’s breasts are on display in so many other places, from “girly” magazines to artistic photo shoots. Where do you draw the line between something being sexy, artistic, or utilitarian? It makes me wonder.african-woman-nursing1

I continue to believe that a woman has a perfect right to “whip it out” in public to feed her kid, and I don’t see anything wrong or immodest about it. I get the feeling that the people who object to it are either really hung up on the sexuality of breasts, or they’re taking the concept of “modesty” a bit too far.

In any event, it’s a cultural thing, as far as I can see. I live in Brazil and have lived in Mexico, and I have never seen even the most devout Catholic women the slightest bit concerned about whether nursing their babies in public was “modest” or not.

When my first daughter was born in the early 60s, breastfeeding was looked down upon by the general population. While I was under sedation in the hospital, I was given a drug to dry up my milk, because the doctors just assumed that I would be bottle-feeding my baby. When I found out, I was furious! I sent my husband to the drug store to get me a breast pump, and I pulled the sheet up over my head while I pumped and pumped until my milk came back. I was in a ward with a bunch of other women, and had to pull a curtain around my bed when I fed my baby, to hide their icy stares, but also because the nurses insisted that I not nurse my baby in the open.

By the time I had my second baby, ten years later, things had loosened up a bit, although nursing in public was still pretty much a no-no. I didn’t care. I persisted, and nursed her in public as discreetly as I could. No one was going to convince me that dealing with heating up formula, having to wash or even sterilize bottles, worrying about whether the milk might be too hot or spoiled, and then sticking the bottle in the baby’s mouth was better than a nice, warm breast that always delivered perfect milk at any time of the day or night, at exactly the right temperature.

I know some women are naturally modest. That’s fine—just through a little blanket over your shoulder. But for those who aren’t that concerned about modesty, nursing your baby in public should be at least as natural as wearing your bikini to the beach. So relax, girls, and don’t be afraid to “whip it out!”

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Is breastfeeding “immodest?”

  1. Jess L

    Naturally modest, I always covered up and think each of us should do what makes us comfortable, even if it makes strangers uncomfortable. But what if they are not strangers but are people you know? My husband and I were a bit uncomfortable when women we knew socially or professionally nursed while sharing our restaurant table. Like any intimate moment, it was a bit TMI.

    • I guess I just secretly wish that Americans had a different attitude about it…in lots of other cultures people just take it in their stride. But, hey, if you live in the US, guess you gotta do as the Americans do, more or less.

      • Jess L

        I remember vacationing in Guadaloupe, where the French went topless on the beach and the locals did not. But – back to the theme of oversharing, where nothing ismprivate, – well, maybe we as a society are headed in that direction..

  2. Could be…funny, when I was in Corsica, I couldn’t bring myself to go topless on the beach, but if I had stayed there longer I might have given it a whirl!

  3. Amy Richmond

    Nursing is nature’s way. I never had to worry about leaving the food behind. I wasn’t as fortunate with the diapers. 😉

  4. Thanks Amy,
    I nursed all 4 of my babies. It is so easy to do this discreetly and so much easier than formula! The complaints I received were from my teenage kids who thought the whole pregnancy issue was embarrassing. “Mom, at your AGE?” REALLY?” However, I was only in my 40’s…. Life is interesting. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. I am totally with you on this one, Amy! I nursed both my sons – and it was so convenient for us! Wherever I took the sons, I brought their food supply right with me – no worrying about sanitizing bottles or warming the milk to just the right temperature – and it was free!

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